Sat Feb 17 2018 #isp

Is Spectrum Incorrectly Billing Its Phone Customers?

I think Spectrum is incorrectly billing many of its telephone customers. It looks like a mistake caused them to do it in a way that deceives customers and may violate regulations. Spectrum may owe some customers a refund. Let me walk you through it.

Today I looked over my cable internet/TV/phone bill, as we should all do more often. As a customer recently affected by Charter/Spectrum’s acquisition of Time-Warner, I was pleasantly surprised by the new bill format. I think it’s easier to understand the charges, especially the telephone taxes & fees. Below is the detailed break-down of my bill.

The problem I see here is a $6.50 Line Charge identified as a tax. This isn’t really a tax; it’s just a way for Spectrum to obscure the true cost of its phone service. spectrum bill breakdown

I think this ought to be considered a violation of 47 CFR § 64.2401 (“Truth-in-Billing Requirements”). However, the FCC isn’t really there to regulate dial-tone service; they generally limit themselves to long-distance charges, 900-numbers, and similar interstate services.

It’s the responsibility of state regulators to police this kind of behavior, and that’s why Spectrum (and others) will give you different prices, different bill formats, and different explanations for things that appear on your bill from one state to the next.

Fortunately for me, Indiana has a similar regulation. 170 IAC 7 (pdf) contains rules for telephone companies operating in Indiana under the authority of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. 170 IAC 7 §1.3.6.a.3 (“Bills for utility service”) requires bills not be misleading.

For the above reason, if you visit Spectrum’s web site, you may eventually find a web page titled Bill Tax Descriptions which includes some state-by-state text for a Federal Subscriber Line Charge. There is no text for Indiana or Kentucky, but in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, Spectrum explains this item as follows: Spectrum collects this fee to recover some of the cost of local network facilities used to serve the customer.

Sound like a tax? It isn’t. They definitely made a mistake by classifying this $6.50-per-month under that heading. I bet it wasn’t their intent to label this a “tax” and instead they meant to call it a “fee” or a “surcharge,” which are still a bit deceitful, but are more closely aligned with industry norms. The reason I think that is that it looked this way on older bills: insight bill excerpt from 2012 twc fee seven dollars twc fee six-fifty

I gave Spectrum an opportunity to offer another explanation. Their customer service agent described it as a state tax and then found a more detailed explanation in whatever resource she was using to field my question. The text she read me was essentially similar to what appears for other states on their web site.

In fact, when I asked if they could provide me with a written description of the charge or refer me to some text on their web site, they helped me find the Bill Tax Descriptions page I’ve linked above. It took me 45 minutes on the phone, three representatives, and waiting on answers from several supervisors to get directed to the part of the web site that doesn’t include any information for my state. However, waiting politely and patiently paid off in a way; they adjusted my service bundle and saved me $30/month without me even asking.

Unfortunately, I’m still left with this $6.50-per-month item which they’ve apparently been incorrectly charging me and others for years. Now that I’ve had a chance to write all this down, I’ll be reaching out to Spectrum again. I suspect they’ll re-classify the $6.50 as a non-tax but will resist refunding any money to the unknown number of customers affected.

I’ll update my blog if I get any response.